2009 Fall Sturgeon Season!
Four Wonderful Visits to Brannan Island State Park and 10 Days of Excitement aboard FishWisherIII!
Another Trip… Another Sturgeon!
The Sacramento River Sturgeon Bite is HOT!
November 11, 2009
I left the coach at home this week and made a day trip to Brannan Island State Park. My fishin’ buddy, John, joined me for this one-day trip. John is an old hand at sturgeon fishing, having fished for them for years on SF Bay. Until this day, he hadn’t fished for sturgeon for about 15 years.
We began fishing the same old spot off Decker Island, below Rio Vista, at about 0830. We both were using that seemingly irresistible eel for bait. It was cool and calm, but even a slight breeze seemed to cut through us like a knife. At one point I had two sweatshirts on, and John was bundled up, too. By afternoon I was down to no shirt and it was actually hot as we fished an outgoing tide, facing into the sun. John set the hook into a hungry sturgeon at about 1030, and managed to reel in what was the laziest sturgeon we’d ever seen. He didn’t fight, he didn’t run, he just surfaced and allowed John to reel him in with almost no resistance. I measured him in the water, then took a couple of photos.
John’s 55″ sturgeon rests along side the boat.
He would have been a good keeper at about 55″ and 30 – 35 Lbs. I pulled the hook out of his mouth as he lay along side the boat, and away he went in his own good time, not even in a rush to escape. He was a strange sturgeon.
John and Dale: two old geezers enjoying a day on the Sacramento River, awaiting that little sturgeon nibble.
We continued our effort to land another one ’til sundown at about 1700, then headed to the docks at Brannan, and home. It was another grand Brannan Island fishing adventure!
We share the river with the big boys! This steamer cruised by, heading for the Port of Sacramento as we were fishing.
Four More Days at Brannan Park and… Three More Sturgeon!
November 3-6, 2009
Day 1, Tuesday, Nov 3:
The Sacramento River was like glass on Day 1 – and stayed flat and pleasant all day.
After launching and setting up “camp”, I headed for my honey hole off Decker Island at 1130. The day was as perfect as it could possibly be in November with flat calm river, warm weather and cold beer. It was one of those days that one really doesn’t mind if the fish completely ignore the offerings – and sure enough, they ignored my irresistible eel. I had one brief take down that might have been a sturgeon, and I slammed home the hookset – and missed.
A couple nearby fishermen idled over to show me their catch!
A couple of fellows who had been fishing nearby idled over to my boat before heading back to the dock. They proudly displayed a nice sturgeon they had just caught, and thanked me for telling them about using eel for bait when we were in the same area during my last trip. They switched to eel and sure enough… they had their sturgeon this week!
I don’t know why anyone would spend big bucks for shrimp, pile worms, etc, and spend much of their day replacing it after the little nippers steal it. It’s a never ending job as I know from experience. Yet with eel one just puts it on the hook and fishes all day with it – it cannot be stolen because it’s like cheap, tough beefsteak and won’t break away when nipped at.
At 1700 as the sun tucked behind the hills. I reeled in and headed for the berth. It had been one sturgeon short of a perfect day, so it was just a wonderful day.
Day 2, Wednesday, Nov 4:
I was back at my Decker Island honey hole at 0800, and continued fishing for the mighty sturgeon. I fished for about an hour before I decided it was time to head for my honey hole on Suisun Bay. I reeled in, weighed anchor with my new windlass, and headed downriver. It was a breezy morning and the river was pretty lumpy – and continued to get lumpier as time went by. I finally turned the corner near the big power plant in Pittsburg, and motored on down to the main bay. What was I thinking?! There were three foot rollers that nearly broke over my bow! That brought me to my senses, and I once again had to abort a Suisun trip and head back upriver.
Slamming through sloppy Suisun Bay
By 1045 I was back on the Decker Island hole, having wasted an hour and a half on my foolish boat ride. The breeze continued and the river stayed lumpy – but I stayed faithful to the cause, soaking my ages-old eel at the bottom of the river. Finally, after the better part of two days, at about 1300, a hungry sturgeon dropped by for a snack! Tick-tick-tick, she peeled off a few inches of line… and I set the hook deep! Her first reaction was to breach, putting on a great show as we began our fight. For ten minutes it was a tug-of-war, first she’d swim away from the boat against a hard drag, then I’d reel her back again. Of course, the diabolical scheme of the fisherman is to play that game ’til the fish is worn out, and eventually lays at the side of the boat in complete submission. After about 15 minutes, that’s exactly what happened.
Sturgeon #1 on Day 2 was about 66″ and surely over 60 Lbs. I released her to continue her mission.
I measured her as best I could, and figured she was about at the upper end of our 46″ – 66″ slot limit. After a couple of photos, I grabbed my pliers and pulled the hook out of her big, tubular mouth. She swam away slowly, completely exhausted – but free. Wow! What an adventure this trip had become. And I, too, was pretty tired from the fight. She was a mighty sturgeon that I’d guess weighed about 65 Lbs. (Gender terms [he/she/his/her] are pure conjecture. It is nearly impossible to sex a sturgeon without an incision. I generally consider slender fish to be males, heftier fish to be females – but that’s just my guess.)
As often happens, the bait on my hooks was still in place after that big fight. That old eel sure is tough! So I simply tossed it out over the transom again – and waited for the next hungry sturgeon. And sure enough, about an hour later I had another visitor sampling my offering. I set the hook with a mighty heave – and the battle was on! This one felt every bit as big as the first, and the fight went very much the same. After about fifteen minutes, she too laid along the side of the boat in complete exhaustion. This one was very similar in size to the first, and may have been a bit heavier. I took a couple of photos, then released her to continue the trek upriver. And I was whipped! That was two big fights in just over an hour, and I’m not what one would call “in fighting shape”.
The second sturgeon, about an hour later, was about the same size and also continued her trek upriver.
Again, the bait survived the struggle, and I tossed it back out to the bottom of the river. I sat back heavily in my chair hoping that if there was a next one, it would be smaller! The weather did not improve, and as afternoon wore on the wind was blowing 15 to 20 MPH and the river was getting very lumpy. I was not having that much fun rockin’ and rollin’ as the waves knocked the boat around. Finally, after an hour of waiting for another sturgeon that I really didn’t want to fight, I reeled in and headed for the berth.
Banging up and down, back and forth on the lumpy river was not pleasant, but it had been an exciting day; I’d caught two sturgeon, the beer was cold, and the music was Country! Life is good…
Day 3, Thursday, Nov 5:
Day 3 dawned calm and a bit cloudy. I assumed the wind would again be a factor, as it usually is on the delta, but it stayed calm all day long. My friend Willie would join me today, and I had high hopes that this would be the day Willie would catch his first sturgeon. He’s fished with me several times, but we never managed to reel in a keeper sturgeon when he was along – in fact on this day I told him I was beginning to think he was a jinx!
Willie and I jawboning as we wait for a hungry sturgeon.
We dropped anchor about 0900 at the same Decker Island honey hole I’d been fishing this whole trip. Willie brought along a new eel as I was down to carving on just the head of the old one I’ve been using for months. I made sure to mix the new eel in with the blood of the old in my bait container, making sure that the great mojo of the old eel would continue on in the new. These subtle tricks of the trade cannot be overlooked!
As the day progressed, Willie and I had several surgeon bites and missed every one. This is why I believe in sitting there with rod in hand and setting the hook the instant the sturgeon first sucks up the bait. We had been leaving the rods on the balance beams much of the time – and it cost us several lost opportunities.
Finally, about 1430, with rods firmly in hand, we had just what we’d been waiting for all day – the gentle sturgeon pull off the reel. Tick-tick-tick. The fight was on! This was Willie’s first sturgeon, and we wanted to be sure we got him to the boat. I could tell by the runs he made against a tight drag that this was a good sized sturgeon – almost certainly a keeper!
Willie’s Prize! He measured 55″ and weighed in at 31 Lbs. This ending made for a perfect day.
After about 10 minutes of war, Willie had his first sturgeon laying along side the boat. I set the little measure tape into the water next to the fish, and saw that this sturgeon was right in the middle of the 46″ to 66″ slot limit. We netted the fish, administered a few righteous whacks, then cut the gills and set him back into the water to bleed out. When we welcomed him aboard, he measured 55″ and weighed in at 31 pounds! Willie posed for a few photos with his great catch. He then posted the catch info to his sturgeon report card and attached the tag. He’s now down to two tags for the rest of the year.
We motored back to the berth, loaded the fish into a big ice chest and carried it up to Willie’s truck. We then hooked the boat trailer up to Willie’s pickup, retrieved the boat and parked it near the motorhome for my trip home the next morning. Willie headed home with his prize and I headed to the coach for my last night at Brannan this trip. It had been a grand Brannan adventure, as usual, and I plan to be back in a couple of weeks with my son, Dean. I can’t wait!
Four Days of Sturgeon Heaven!
October 20-23, 2009
Having closely watched tides and weather forecasts, I loaded up the boat and coach and headed once again to Brannan Island State Park near Rio Vista, California, which is on the famed 1000 mile California Delta.
I planned to spend three nights and fish three days; certainly at least some of the fishing would be down river on Suisun Bay. Day one, Tuesday, was shortened by the chores to load and the travel time, so I opted to fish my favorite hole nearest Brannan Park, on the Sacramento River. Decker Island parts the river just down from Brannan Park, and I like to fish just off Decker, near the ship channel there. I have caught many sturgeon at that hole, and hoped to add to my total that day.
After a couple of hours I watched the light, tender pull of a sturgeon take a few inches of line from my reel: tick – tick – tick. I set the hook with a violent heave, and felt the hook go deep into something that wouldn’t move! I knew that was a sturgeon! I had my drogue deployed at the time, and while trying to pull it back into the boat while fighting the sturgeon, I must have allowed a bit of slack in the line. Giving slack to a hooked sturgeon is like giving the key to a jailbird – poof! He was gone! Rats.
A half-hour later I had another sturgeon on, and this one was pretty laid back – ’til he saw the boat! When it dawned on him that he was in big trouble, he headed downriver like a torpedo, giving me a very good fight. It took me nearly twenty minutes to get that wild critter to the boat, and when I did, he was pooped and in submission.
I measured him with my little green garden tape; he was about 50 inches. I decided I’d wait for a bigger one, so I released him to pursue his pleasures upriver at the spawning beds. That was two sturgeon on in less than an hour!
The afternoon was calm and pleasant. Toward the end of my fishing day I reeled in a squawfish of about three pounds, considered a trash fish, and also let him go. By 1730 I’d had a big day and called it quits. I headed for the berths at Brannan Park for a nice evening in the motorhome.
The 50″ sturgeon I released on Tuesday.
Note the tubular mouth of the sturgeon in this photo of the release. That’s a vacuum hose! When not getting in trouble by sucking up my nasty ol’ eel, that hose is just a slit that is barely noticeable.
Day two, Wednesday, dawned a bit breezy, but promising. I decided that no matter the breeze, it would be fine downriver on Suisun Bay, so I headed for my honey hole near Garnet Point.
After about 40 minutes into my hour cruise to Suisun, the wind was getting no better and the river was getting very lumpy. Meanwhile, near Brannan Park the weather was much calmer and the river nearly flat. I turned the boat around and headed back toward the same hole near Decker Island that I fished the day before.
En route I explored a bit of river I thought had promise for windy fishing, but decided it wouldn’t be worth the effort. Finally, at 1020 I was back at the Decker Island hole and fishing a slow outgoing current. About 2½ hours later, as the current neared slack tide, I noticed that my line was nearly to the boat. What was going on? I reeled in a bit, then noticed something mighty heavy at the end of my line. I set the hook hard, figuring it might be a sturgeon that had pulled my bait toward the boat, not away from the boat as is nearly always the case – and it was FISH ON!
I was hooked into a big fish! He went where he wanted but he earned every yard of line as I had the lever at full forward. When he’d try to pause for a rest, I’d reel him toward the boat ’til he’d take off again. He was a thrilling fighter – and a durable one, too.
The approximate 66″ beast that earned his release. Good luck, tough guy, and thanks for the drama!
After nearly half an hour of battle and him turning the boat in circles during slack tide, I finally got him to the boat. He was utterly exhausted and in submission. Instead of laying alongside the boat as most sturgeon do, he laid vertical in the water, impossible to measure. I tried in vain to get my measuring thingy along side him, but couldn’t. Finally, I just netted him, then tried to get an idea of his length.
He was very near the 66″ top of the slot (46″ to 66″) limit, but I couldn’t determine that he was legal. I finally let him go, partly because he was so big that I just couldn’t get him into the boat! There was a time that I could pull a hundred pounder in, but I’m getting too old for the bigger sturgeon. I estimated him at around 65 pounds.
I was pooped. It had been a long fight and a tough job netting him. The net in the photo is 30″ by 38″, and the bend of his body doesn’t really show well. He’ll likely survive, but he was also very, very pooped from the battle. I hope he has a wonderful time upriver this year; he deserves it.
About an hour later I had another big ‘un on! This guy was crazy and crafty and lucky. His first feat was to breach literally under my rod which was bent mightily to his pull, jumping in an arch from amidships to beyond the transom! I could have reached out and touched him had I been quicker!
He fought like a warrior possessed, and unfortunately for me, he had a penchant for going forward, not abaft of the transom as nearly all sturgeon tend to do. He got himself wrapped around my anchor chain, deep and forward of my position in the boat, and was impossible to move.
I’m sure he was on the bottom, wrapped around the ground tackle somehow, and we were stalemated. After an exciting 12 minutes of insane fury, he was gone! Rats. Again. But he was a valiant fighter and I hope he, too, makes it to the spawn.
I stayed faithful to the cause for another couple of hours, fishing most of the incoming current. At about 1630 I reeled in, weighed anchor and headed for the berth and my cozy motorhome. I was whipped – and it felt good!
The broken leader. Even 80 Lb mono can’t hold up to a steel chain for long.
Day three of this week’s Brannan Adventure found me back on the Decker Island hole – why would I cruise clear down to Suisun Bay after all the action I’d had so near Brannan Park!? Goodness – four sturgeon on in two days and the promise of more action still to come is reason enough to stay put. And I did.
By 0915 I was tossing that yucky ol’ eel out over the transom, looking for yet another good sturgeon fight. It was a perfect day on the Sacramento River, calm and sunny and flat. It took only a couple of hours of waiting before another tough ol’ sturgy came along to steal my offering. His gentle bite was textbook, gently ticking off a few inches of 50 Lb. braid from the spool of my Penn International Baitcaster 975 LD. Wham! I pressed my thumb hard against the spool and set the hook in a flash – he was hooked deep! And he was a pretty tough customer, absolutely determined to head downriver in a hurry.
I let him run ‘til he tired, then forced him to me, one pull up of the rod at a time. When he’d run again, I’d let him – and every inch he took was against a hard drag. The fight lasted about 12 minutes, and then he laid alongside the boat in submission. He wasn’t so big; according to my tape he was something over the 46” minimum, but not much.
After being so picky the past couple of days, I decided I’d keep this fella, and scooped him into the net. After a few righteous whacks, I welcomed him aboard. He measured 49” and weighed in at 30 pounds. He would be a good eating sturgeon – although I don’t eat much sturgeon. I haven’t cleaned and kept one for myself in years, as I much prefer chicken!
After catching and releasing sturgeon the prior two days, this lucky guy got the free boat ride! He fell for nasty 6-month old (maybe older) lamprey eel that I’ve frozen and thawed many times. All five sturgies I hooked this trip took the same stuff. Lamprey works!
We (my sturgeon and I) headed to the berth well before noon as my fishing day was over. California allows one sturgeon per day and only three per year – enforced by a tagging program similar to deer tags. I attached my second tag to him as soon as possible, and now have one left for the year. I plan to attach the last tag to a sturgeon sometime in November, and that will be the end of my fishing for the year.
On Friday morning I loaded up the boat before 0500, doing my best to avoid the rush of early birds launching early.
I loaded in the dark, almost two hours before the first guy showed up to launch. I’m launch ramp-phobic, there’s no denying it. It’s the worst part of this whole hobby for me. It’s not that I don’t like launching and retrieving – I just detest waiting on the occasional fool who hasn’t a clue and has no consideration for other boaters!
One couldn’t dream up a more productive and exciting fishing adventure than I’d just experienced right there at Decker Island! It was an unforgettable time and I look forward to the next Brannan Island adventure!
Brannan Island State Park Sturgeon!
October 6-8, 2009
Having tried twice since April to fish Suisun Bay for the mighty sturgeon, and failing both times due to the endless winds of summer, it was very satisfying to actually arrive at my Suisun Bay honey hole on Tuesday – and to actually catch a keeper! And it was a pleasure to anchor there by simply pressing down on the new windlass button and having the anchor launch itself to the bottom of the bay. It was an even greater pleasure to raise the anchor by just pushing a button!
I didn’t arrive at my honey hole ’til noon. I had pulled the boat to Brannan with the motorhome that Tuesday morning, then launched and berthed the boat, then set the motorhome up in the RV parking area of the park. Finally, I boarded the boat and headed downriver for some fishing. It is an hour’s cruise to my sturgeon hole on Suisun Bay, about 25 miles downriver.
I dug out the nasty, old eel that I’ve stored in Wifey’s freezer for over six months, and cast a couple of chunks out over the transom and to the bottom of the bay. It felt great to finally be back on my old honey hole after nearly six months. Nothing had changed; nothing ever seems to change out there on the remote fringes of the delta where the skiers, jet skiers and cruisers never seem to wander. The nearest that any other boaters seem to get to my fishing hole is about a mile away – and most are much farther away than that. I love the solitude out there!
In less than two hours an unusually energetic sturgeon picked up the eel I had offered and swam off with it – bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz sang my reel! Usually a sturgeon will gently mouth the bait, and their bite is barely perceptible. The rod was resting in the balance beam at the time, and I was momentarily distracted doing something else. Fortunately my sturgy kept running with the bait ’til I could grab the rod and set the hook – and the battle was on! He put up a good fight for just a few minutes, and was soon boat-side, exhausted and still. I measured his length with my little green tape used for such measurements, and he was 46 inches. Actually, the best I could tell with that preliminary measure was that he was probably 45″ to 47″ as it is difficult to accurately measure a fish outside of the boat.
First day prize: A keeper 46″ that was released to fight another day.
In California we have a sturgeon slot limit of 46″ to 66″. Any sturgeon shorter or longer must be released. And… we are now limited to just three keepers per year. We must tag those we keep with a tag very similar to a deer tag. I have two tags left for this year, and I will save them for larger sturgeon – I hope. Also, when we keep a sturgeon, we are finished sturgeon fishing for the day. After we’ve used up our three tags, we’re done sturgeon fishing for the year. So I use my tags sparingly!
I continued fishing for a couple more hours, enjoying God’s creation, Merle’s music and Coors’ cheapest beer, Keystone Lite. As the incoming current waned, I decided it was time to press the button that raises my anchor to the bow, and then pointed FishWisher III back upriver toward Brannan Island Park and the berth I would tie up to for the next couple of nights. Home would be the comfy motorhome, and I’d have two more days of fishing yet this trip.
The next day I again fished Suisun, that day with a couple of friends, John and son Johnny, who followed in their boat. We caught no sturgeon that day, but enjoyed the splendid boat rides up and down river and the time spent trying. The third day was too windy for a trip to Suisun, so I fished locally, that day with a nephew, Darren, and we again we didn’t do any catching. But that’s fishing.
The boat is loaded and the rig is about ready to head for home after another grand Brannan Island adventure.
I’m already looking forward to the next trip – and a bigger sturgeon. Life is good!